Coatesville Veterans Affairs Medical Center
Healing with Horses
John, a Veteran who lives in our Community Living Center, rides horses every Wednesday. And, he loves it. So do three other Veterans, and Ellen Barnes, the recreation therapist who makes it all happen each week. The therapeutic horseback riding program is made possible through an American Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania grant, and takes place at Thorncroft Equestrian Center in Malvern, Penna.
“One..two..three..halt,” says the Thorncroft instructor. John and Sadie stop, and then go on to round a green cone, and turn left. Says John, “Sadie is a good horse. She listens.”
The therapeutic horseback riding program aims to improve Veterans’ quality of life. Veterans selected to participate have a wide range of health conditions, and limitations, making them candidates that therapeutic riding can help.
Often, when Ellen arrives to pick up the gang on Wednesdays, John is ready and eager to begin his favorite activity. Until last March, John, who is 83 years old, had not ridden a horse in almost 70 years. Ellen knew the first time she saw him ride, though, that he was a natural. “He had the knack all of these years.” In fact, so much so, that John received an award after competing in the Handicapped Rider Division of the Devon Horse Show and Country Fair, which took place at Thorncroft Equestrian Center on May 25, 2013.
For John, he likes the program “because it is a new adventure.” No stranger to excitement, John served during the Korean War era as a U.S. Army corporal from 1946 to 1947, and re-enlisted from 1950 to 1953 where he was a paratrooper with the Airborne Rangers.
Whether it is a physical improvement, an opportunity to reminisce, an experience of joy and excitement, or simply a contact with the community, each Veteran involved in this program has experienced a positive result. Most importantly, relationships have been built or enhanced with the help of the horses.